It may be a buyer's market when it comes to real estate, but there are still many things you're often better off renting.
Of course, there's no substitute for ownership if you truly need an item for repeated use, but if you're only going to use something once in a while, why pay full price when you can borrow it for a lot less?
For Americans on a budget, here are 10 examples of when renting might be the more cost-effective choice.
Designer gowns and dresses were once out of reach to most of us, affordable only to glitzy celebrities and those with a healthy cushion of disposable income. Now thanks to some hip rental companies, women with more modest means can wear red-carpet-worthy pieces for a fraction of the retail price.
Wear Today Gone Tomorrow rents out dresses and accessories by top designers, many for 90% off the retail price, such as this Kay Unger strapless silk ruched dress for $57 for a seven-day rental (retails for $570). Just keep in mind that the company tacks on a $10 cleaning fee for all dresses.
Rent the Runway also lends out dresses by more than 100 designers, including Vera Wang, Missoni and Diane von Furstenberg, plus accessories such as jewelry and shawls.
Both companies send the rental dress of your choice by mail, and Rent the Runway throws in a second size for free just in case the first one doesn't fit.
While everyone should probably own a basic toolbox, when it comes to bigger power tools that you may only need for a special project, you can save money by renting.
The Home Depot rents out a variety of tools for the occasional home repair or maintenance project. For instance, I can rent a 20-inch gas chainsaw from my local Home Depot for $63 a day — a good value, considering that buying one from the store can cost from about $200 to $570, according to HomeDepot.com.
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You can also rent a carpet cleaner from most Home Depot locations for $18 for four hours, or $24.97 for the day. According to HomeDepot.com, most carpet cleaners at the store cost $150 or more to purchase.
Like dresses, you can rent designer handbags for a considerable amount less than the retail price.
If you're wondering when it makes more sense to borrow a bag than buy one, consider these situations: You have a special event, such as a wedding, that may call for a specific color or style to match your dress, but you don't want to spend a bundle on something you may not wear again (how many "lilac" colored outfits do you normally wear?). Or say you're looking to dress to impress for a job interview, date or charity function. Or you want a new handbag for this season, but don't want to spend too much and get stuck with a bag that may end up in your closet when the season changes.
Bag Borrow or Steal rents out handbags by hot designers like Tory Burch, Prada, Michael Kors and Fendi on a weekly, monthly or seasonal basis. Another service is Handbag Envy, which rents bags for the week or month by designers such as Louis Vuitton, Chanel and Gucci.
The only thing spookier than a funeral is the price tag that comes along with it. Purchasing a casket alone can cost an arm and a leg, with the average metal casket priced at $2,295 and the average wooden casket costing $2,865, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.
Believe it or not, though, buying a casket isn't your only option — many funeral homes actually offer casket rentals for the funeral services, which can save you a good amount of money. Rental caskets look like any other to the casual observer, but inside they contain an insert where the body is placed that is removed after the services.
"You normally don't see rentals used with burials — they're typically used for cremation," says funeral director Michael Krill, spokesperson for the NFDA and owner of three funeral homes in northwest Ohio. Krill adds that rentals at his funeral home, which are included in package deals, can save customers about $800-$900.
As if college tuition fees aren't high enough these days, the cost of books can also make a dent in your savings. According to the College Board, books and other course materials at a four-year public college cost students $1,168 on average for the 2011-2012 academic year.
One way to save money is by borrowing textbooks by services such as CampusBookRentals.com, which rents new and gently used textbooks for a good amount less than the cost of buying the book new and, in many cases, used. For instance, the Longman Anthology of British Literature, Volumes 1A, 1B and 1C rents for $23.13 for the semester — about a third of its list price of $66.67.
Other sites that offer book rentals include Half.com and Chegg.com.
Ahh, the great outdoors. Many of us daydream about spending more time with Mother Nature, but few of us get around to actually going on regular camping trips. For those who can only go camping once or twice a year, it's probably best to rent your equipment.
The popular sporting goods store REI offers rentals for a variety of camping essentials, including tents, backpacks, sleeping bags, paddling gear and camping stoves. At my local REI, for instance, you can rent a four-person tent for $45 the first day and $10 for every additional day — which equals $55 for a weekend. Meanwhile, most four-person tents on REI.com cost in the $200 and $300 range.
When it comes to that occasional home improvement project that requires you to transport a heavy load, it's probably not worth it to buy your own pickup truck — and you certainly don't want to risk damaging the car you already own.
The Home Depot lets you rent a pickup truck for $19 for the first 75 minutes, or $69 for a day, which is available at most of its retail locations. All you'll need is a driver's license, a valid vehicle insurance card and a major credit card.
One of the most frustrating things about driving is finding a place to park, especially in a busy city or a congested town square. Luckily, there are a variety of services out there that allow you to rent spots, often at a rate significantly lower than commercial car parks or on-street meters.
You can book a spot with the click of a mouse through sites such as ParkatmyHouse and Craigslist — whether you need a spot on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
If you only go biking once in a while, or are an avid cyclist but don't feel like transporting your bike every time you travel, renting could be a good option.
You can rent bikes at low rates from services such as RentaBikeNow.com, which partners with more than 250 bike shops around the country to help people find a bike near their current location. Just head to the site and choose your state from the drop-down menu, and a list of bike shops that offer rentals will appear on a map, allowing you to find the nearest one. Simply click the bike shop you're interested in, choose the date(s) you want to rent, and make your reservation. Your thighs will thank you.
If you're decorating a house you plan on living in for years to come, we won't argue with you if you choose to buy your furniture. But if you are hosting a special event at your home that requires some additional seating and tables, are living somewhere temporarily or are selling and want to stage your home with fresh pieces, renting might make the most sense.
Cort provides a host of stylish choices, including sofas, accent chairs, dining tables and rugs, as well as complete sets for your living room, bedroom and dining room. This living room set, for instance, includes a sofa, accent chair, cocktail table, end table and silver tear-drop table lamp for $265 per month.